I’m the daughter of a praying mother, a woman who always keeps a prayer list by her bedside. As a child, I often snuck into her room to see what she was praying for me. “Attitude change? Patience?” I would read, bristling, not at the suggestion that I had a bad attitude, but that she had somehow divined it. My mom’s faithful example stayed with me, but it took a near-death experience for God to transform my own haphazard approach to prayer.
Daring to Trust
One snowy February night, 35 weeks into my fourth pregnancy, I began to hemorrhage. We rushed to the hospital in lightly falling snow, making a quick call to my mom on the way. “I think they’ll deliver the baby tonight,” I said as calmly as I could, though trembling with fear. “No, you don’t need to come to the hospital tonight—wait until morning.” I wanted to pretend this would be a regular delivery, but Mom knew better. She began to pray.
During the delivery, things took a turn for the worse. The doctor on call safely delivered our baby daughter, but my bleeding wouldn’t stop, even after an emergency hysterectomy. The baby couldn’t breathe and was taken to the NICU, while my husband was torn in two directions—go with his struggling daughter or stay in the waiting room as a team of doctors began a second surgery on his wife? Our worship pastor joined him at the hospital in those dark hours, praying with him and my mom, who came to the hospital anyway.
But my brother-in-law Mike went a step further, as he often does. His extroversion and brashness sometimes bumps up against my introversion and reserve, but we have shared a common faith. I admired his spiritual courage and the bold way he lived out what he believed, even when it was uncomfortable, like when he invited a homeless man to come stay with him.
On that dark night, Mike jumped into action. “We’ve got to get people praying,” he told my sister. “We’ve got to wake them up!”
At 4:00 in the morning, while my sister drove to the hospital, Mike began making phone calls, reaching a surprising number of friends, considering the hour. All over town and even beyond, people took to their knees, crying out for our baby and me. Many friends have since told me they’d never prayed with such urgency and focus before, audibly calling out to God.
For the next two hours, while surgery continued, they prayed, and, as you already know, God listened—he graciously spared both our lives. Since that night 13 years ago, our daughter has been a walking, (loquaciously) talking, reminder that God not only hears our prayers, but moves mountains in response.
Learning to Persist
Without any thought for what others would think—even at 4 a.m.—my brother-in-law lived out his unwavering belief that prayer was of vital importance. That it made a vital difference. I knew I owed my life to the prayer warriors he had roused, and the experience changed my own prayer life. It took me from a casual pray-er to an earnest intercessor. When I said I would pray for someone, I purposed to pray faithfully for them. I prayed over and over, especially for those battling cancer, the people God put on my heart most intensely. I longed to be like the persistent widow in Jesus’ parable—a woman who asked again and again for what she wanted until the judge finally relented.
I am still an apprentice prayer warrior, battling my besetting distractibility and penchant for starting but not finishing. Prayer is a discipline that requires ongoing practice. “Pray without ceasing,” 1 Thessalonians 5:17 says. Dallas Willard, in a conversation with author Bill Gaultier, puts it this way: “Seek a praying life—a life shot through with prayer.”
I think of it as “pray as I go,” and in the early years of motherhood, I filled the cracks in my day with thousands of little popcorn prayers. As my children grew, so did my prayers, graduating from “please, God, let him sleep!” to “please give her friends who love you” and “please help his heart to be conformed to yours.”
Resolving to Listen
Today, those whispered breath prayers and praises come as naturally to me as exhaling. But listening to God, another crucial skill, needs its own space, away from people and things clamoring for my attention. I have been learning to carve out time early in my day to be still and listen. Sometimes my mind wanders and I get distracted, but showing up at the same time and place every day reminds me what I’m there for—a two-way conversation with my heavenly Father.
When I devote time to sitting quietly and attentively, God’s voice is almost audible. I recently approached him about two different ministry opportunities. My knee jerk reaction had been to say no to both…not enough time, not enough energy. But I took both questions to the Lord to make sure the no was from him and not me, and waited quietly. “Yes,” he said to the one almost immediately. (I asked him again just to make sure I’d heard correctly.) Those moments of clear direction are stirring reminders that God is near, attentive, and involved.
A few months ago, I attended the funeral of a godly saint known for his faithful habit of prayer. His wife, children, grandchildren, pastor, and friends all spoke of it. It was what set him apart—his calling. But isn’t that same calling on my life as a child of God? May I follow in the footsteps of this godly man and my own mom as one who keeps knocking at the door of Heaven.